New Mexico December 11, 2017
One Of The Worst Disasters In U.S. History Happened Right Here In New Mexico
Mining was (and, to some degree, still is) big business in the West and you’ll find that many little towns across this section of the country got their start from a nearby mine. However, mining has a rather grisly past and, historically, it has always been a strenuous, dangerous job. In fact, one of New Mexico’s worst disasters occurred in a coal mine back in 1913.
These days Dawson, New Mexico is a ghost town, a relic of the days of boomtowns and long forgotten dreams. Not much remains other than a cemetery and a few stray buildings. In its heyday, Dawson saw a peak population of 9,000, thanks to the large coal mines and railways operating in and around town.
Owned by the Phelps Dodge Corporation, Dawson had a total of ten mines, each extracting tons of coal for a variety of uses, including the fairly new introduction of electricity. In 1913, just seven years after the company took ownership of the mines, tragedy struck.
On October 22 of that year, an explosion occurred in one of the mines, rocking the town and shocking its residents. The explosion, believed to be caused by dynamite igniting coal dust while the mine was in regular operation, makes this event the second worst mining disaster in U.S. history.
Accounts from the time mentioned residents and miners hearing a sharp crack and witnessing fire shoot from the mine entrance. Miners were found inside, frozen in time by the explosion with tools still in hand. Only 23 miners survived the blast.
The New Mexican estimated that a total of 263 men died as a result of the explosion, but the numbers could have been even higher. Most of the miners killed were recent immigrants, with the greatest numbers hailing from Italy (129) and Greece (52).
Nearly ten years later, another blast occurred in a nearby mine, also caused by ignited coal dust. This time 123 men were killed, many were actually the children of miners who died in the 1913 disaster.
By 1950, demand for coal declined and Dawson’s mines closed. Phelps Dodge quickly razed the town and one of the few reminders of the town today is its extensive cemetery. Dozens of iron crosses painted white stand against the landscape, a stark reminder of the dangers miners endured.
Did you already know about the tragedy that struck this New Mexico town? We’d love to hear from you in our comments.
You can read about more surprising instances from New Mexico’s history in
8 Insane Things That Happened In New Mexico You Won’t Find In History Books.